The Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country, astride some of their adaptive ski equipment, some of which is new to the region, others of which are nearly unique in the country. (Photo by Justin Roshak) (click for larger version)
January 04, 2019REGION—The Courier is proud to partner with the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce to spotlight their monthly featured member program. Each month, a profile of the featured member will be published in the first issue, and will be shared through the Chamber's social media and member communications. This month, the paper sat down with Thomas Shovlin, incoming Executive Director of Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country, an area nonprofit dedicated to sport access.
Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country was founded in 2009 by a group of area rec and adaptive enthusiasts, and has been led by Executive Director Sandy Olney for its entire existence. Thomas Shovlin will lead the group into its second decade, starting Jan. 21.
Shovlin began volunteering at Adaptive Sports Partners shortly after moving to the area with his wife, Sara, from Philadelphia. As the older brother of someone living with cerebral palsy, the organization's mission struck a personal chord.
"Since we were really young, we'd have to adapt certain things. Seeing the joy in my brother's face, that's what I remember, and it's kind of the same thing with Adaptive Sports Partners: we use all sorts of equipment, we make any adjustments or adaptions we need to, based on the ability level of our participant," he told the Courier. "At the end of the day, it's about creating a positive experience, about having fun, and letting somebody experience these awesome recreation sport and wellness opportunities that we create for them."
Shovlin has managed a handful of insurance industry trade associations for past five years, including membership, planning, and events.
"It's given me a great experience of wearing many hats and doing all the day to day responsibilities that are required of nonprofits," he said.
"I come from a communication and marketing background," he explained. "I was working for a large healthcare company prior to my current role, and so I think in terms of fundraising, marketing, communications, telling the story and sharing the amazing work that the organization does. I think that's going to be a primary skill-set."
"I didn't grow up as a skier—I was a wrestler," he recalled. "It's not something I've been doing since I was a little kid. Which is different from a lot of our volunteers, who are experts at this stuff. That's the beautiful thing: we are a volunteer-driven organization. We have amazing volunteers who are highly skilled at these types of activities, from skiing to rock climbing to kayaking and biking and hiking. We really depend on, and tap into that knowledge base, of our volunteers and they are the ones who are ultimately carrying out these programs, with significant training from our staff."
Adaptive Sports Partners employs four people, and last year organized some 192 volunteers.
Volunteers receive training in concussion awareness, creating a safe environment, and sexual harassment prevention, along with other things, through an organization called Good Sport USA. Alpine, tethering, and other seasonal training are also available. Another partner, Professional Ski Instructors of America, certify individuals with various kinds of skiing: alpine, child, and of course adaptive. The best-trained of Adaptive Sports Partners' volunteers are certified in multiple fields.
Partnership a focus
Partnership is baked into the organization's name, and is vital for its mission.
Adaptive sports equipment manufacturer Tessier is one key partner at the international level, and has provided both a new mono-ski, and training for it. Also through that partnership, Shovlin can claim one of the few tandem skis in North America, on which two Adaptive members are trained.
Shovlin says that not all American ski mountains welcome adaptive equipment. Not so in our backyard: Cannon Mountain has been a strong partner with the organization for its entire lifespan.
"They are really supportive of our program," Shovlin said of the publicly-owned ski mountain. "They are really behind the idea that the ski mountain should be accessible to people of all abilities."
Operating and training on the slopes, loading and unloading the equipment, and navigating the lifts, has all been eased by Cannon's commitment and time investment.
"We couldn't do what we do without the support of Cannon Mountain," Shovlin said.
A third of his budget comes from another partnership: the Sunrise Ascent fundraiser, a collaboration with other area disabled sports groups, and with the Mount Washington Auto Road.
"It is part of our mission to partner with other organizations, with the community, to not only have their support, but to be a valuable resource for them," Shovlin explained. "If any businesses or organizations in our community would like to partner with us, we would be very welcoming of that."
For example, he said that Adaptive, or one of its contacts, could come in and assess physical and Web site accessibility for businesses.
With Littleton High School, Adaptive Sports Partners runs a recreational therapy program, which is new this year. With the Boys and Girls Club of the North Country, they run a disability awareness program.
Area businesses chip in too: Adaptive runs a Nordic ski program at Ski Hearth Farm, and North Country Climbing Center's owner (and ASPNC volunteer) Rusty Talbot both supports the program, and volunteers his own and his staff's time and resources for programs.
Local clients key—no one turned away
"This was created to be a community organization, to serve the local population, to serve people with disabilities who live and work and play in this community," Shovlin said.
Veterans are another key focus, and are a growth area for the organization: budding partnerships with the VA and veterans nonprofits will hopefully place both physically injured and "walking wounded" in ski programs at Cannon.
Shovlin says that Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country is currently at capacity for its current staffing, and would like to add more volunteers, to expand programming.
Some clients come from as far away as Spaulding Rehabilitation, outside of Boston. Last year, Adaptive Sports Partners provided more than one thousand individual sessions.
Adaptive Sports Partners turns no one away, so the amount a client pays varies by ability to do so.
Adaptive's budget is in the scale of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the majority of which is fund-raised through events, such as the Sunrise Ascent.
Shovlin added that, as he moved into the Executive Director Role, the job will shift, and refocus on managing and growing programming, adding volunteers, and especially developing new grant and other revenue sources.
"I'm going to be focused on the fund raising and fund development so we have the equipment we need, our volunteers have all the resources we need, to make this organization continue to thrives," he said.
He plans to pursue more grants, and out-of-state money.
Adaptive's next big fundraiser is the Pirates of the High Skis event, Feb. 2, at Cannon Mountain. Events are the largest fundraiser, followed by individual donors.
The new recreational therapy program will also generate new income, as the field is a new focus for the VA, and other funding organizations in the nonprofit/public service sphere.
Looking forward, Shovlin said building awareness of disability was a key goal.
"Nobody should be left behind. Nobody should feel like they can't go somewhere or access something that everybody else is doing. That's the mission," he said. "Unless you're dealing with disability every day, or seeing it every day, and how it can be difficult as a person living with a disability, it might not be top of mind.
"We're a nonprofit—we couldn't operate without the support of the community. We're trying to use those dollars efficiently and effectively as possible. We're trying to be a resource for the community. If other organizations and businesses want to tap into our knowledge and our skill set, I welcome that."
Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country can be reached on the Web at adaptivesportspartners.org or by phone at 823-2102.